Are apostles and prophet still operating today?

Paul, in Ephesians 2:20, says that the “household of God” (or the Church) is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”. What did he mean by this, and who are these apostles and prophets?

To properly answer this question we must first examine who are apostles and prophets. Lets look first at who a prophet is.

PROPHET

A Prophet is a mouth piece of God or the spiritual pen of a ready writer (Psalm 45:1) that God uses to write His perfect will on paper. His role includes the following: to reveal the nature and attributes of God to men (See Deut 5:4-10 and Lev 19:1-4); to make known to men the laws of God (See Ex 20:1-17); to call the people back to obedience to God’s laws (2 Chron 24:19); to exhort the people to sincerity in worship (See Jer 7:1-11); to warn them of Divine judgment upon sin, both personal and national (See Jer 36:1-3); and to record the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures (See Ex 17:14; 34;27; Jer 36:1-2; 27-28).

Are there prophets operating today? Certainly, but modern prophets do not operate at the same level as the holy prophets (and I am referring to the prophets of the Bible) in two ways: they are never 100 percent accurate and their words will never become Scripture. The holy prophets, as the term implies, were chosen, called and prepared by God Himself. They, you might say, were all unwilling prophets; they are damned if they do (they risk being stoned to death if their prophecies do not come to pass), and damned if they don’t (they will be dealt severely by God if they are unwilling – like Jonah).

Modern prophets cannot contradict what has already been spoken in Scripture, neither can they add to it (Rev 22:18). They might receive insights into the interpretation of biblical prophecies; yet what they say remains to be proven either right or wrong. Most modern prophets will operate at the personal level (releasing personal prophecies) or at the level of the local church. While God had spoken to nations through His prophets in the past, they are given to the church for the equipping of the saints in the New Testament (Eph 4:11-12).

APOSTLE

The term “apostello“, during pre-Christian times, refers “to the sending of a fleet or an embassy. Only in Herodotus (1.21; 5.38) is it used of a personal envoy. Josephus employs it once (Antiquities17.11.1) in the classical sense of an embassy.” [1] More than the act of sending, this word includes the idea of the authorization of a messenger. Jesus was an Apostle. Although there is only one explicit reference to Jesus as an apostle ( Heb 3:1 ), implicit references to his having been “sent” by the Father are found throughout the New Testament.

Dr John Cottle and Dr. John P. Kelly says that, “Jesus did not think or speak Greek, but Aramaic-Hebrew. He took the Greek word apostolos because Greek was the universal language of the Roman Empire. But He filled it with the content of the Hebrew Sheliach.” They go on to say that, “Eliezer, the Syrian slave whom Abraham commissioned to bring a wife for Isaac, was the first Sheliach mentioned in scripture (Genesis 24:2ff and 15:2)”. [2] In short, “an Apostle is an Ambassador of the One who sent him”.

If this is the case, then every Christian is an apostle since every one who is redeemed by God has been given the ministry and message of reconciliation and is an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor 5:18-20). Should you and I start to think of ourselves as apostles?

In a sense, I believe that a Christian might not necessarily be an apostle, per se, but he (or she) certainly should be apostolic because he has been commanded to “Go!” Just as Christ was sent by the Father, He in turn sends us (John 20:21 See also John 17:18). What are we being sent to do?

Clearly, Christ has sent us to do everything that He did during His ministry on the earth: to teach and preach, heal, cast out demons, and even raise the dead. In fact, Christ expects us to do “greater works than these” because He has gone to the Father, and the Holy Spirit has been sent to us (John 14:12). What else did the apostles appointed by Christ do in addition to this?

All of the apostles of Christ established churches. According to early Christian tradition, all the apostles established churches elsewhere. “From these apostolically founded churches, the Christian movement spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.” [3] After establishing the churches, Paul, for example, “exercised peculiar authority” over them, establishing “set patterns of conduct that were to be observed”. [4] In others words, Paul (and the other apostles) became the patriarch of the church he had established. In his own words, speaking to the believers in Corinth, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15). And like in any family, the responsibility falls squarely on the father to set things in order through instruction and enforcement.

In this sense, modern “apostles” may be church-planters. And having planted a church, it is their responsibility to ensure that the church functions as it should, in unity and love. But their point reference must still be the teachings of the original apostles. Paul himself said, “I have laid the foundation,” and all those who come after him can only build on the foundation he has laid “for no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:10-11). And having laid the foundation, the apostle joins the prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in the task of equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph 4:11-12).

During Paul’s days, many men tried to identify themselves as an apostle equal to Paul so as to receive something (financially) from the people. But Paul resolved not to receive anything from those he preaches to so that these (who claim to be apostles) might be shown to be “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:12-13). Men who claim to be apostles continued to emerge in the Church for a long time. There were some in the church in Ephesus; and they were found to be false (Rev 2:2). What this seems to imply is this: while there may still be those who do the work of apostles today, they are not on par with the apostles of Christ.

Conclusion

It is true that the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the Church; but “the apostles and prophets” are a direct reference to the apostles and prophets of the Bible, not modern ones. The foundation of the Church, in terms of doctrine, has been laid by the apostles of Christ. The foundation of the local church, particularly the Gentile church, was laid by Paul. Once the foundation had been laid, Christ can then begin to build His church (Matt 18:16). He cannot be building His church while the foundation is still being laid.

And with regards to prophecy, all that will come to pass in the future have been foretold by the holy prophets. Nothing can be added to or taken away from it without severe consequences.

[1] Elwell, Walter A. “Entry for ‘Apostle'”. “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology”. . 1997.
[2] International Coalition of Apostles. Definition of “Apostle”.

[3] Sojourners and Strangers. Gregg R. Allison p.207

[4] ibid

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